cover image Philomath


Devon Walker-Figueroa.. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-57131-522-9

Walker-Figueroa's gloomy, atmospheric debut is driven by a steely-eyed perseverance in a desolate setting, as in the book's first lines, which explain the title and name of a town: " 'Love of learning' is what/ Philomath means." Philomath, Ore., is the setting for this gritty but lyric noir, where locals live and fight against their environment, be it the settled ghost town or the decaying natural world. Allusions to art are subverted by their grim failures: harps with gut strings warp out of tune, high school sculpture classes only poison the students' lungs, and an ill ballet teacher dies. One poem observes a neighbor "eating locusts again,/ as if a plague were just another/ point of view," while another's parenthetical aside observes that "What I'm learning/ to call pleasure is more/ akin to belief." Walker-Figueroa's vision of America is riddled with unusual characters, and she effectively uses caesura and passive voice to suspend a sense of closure throughout. These sharply observed poems imbue its portrait of place with wit and electricity. (Sept.)